Dear the Brothers Duffer,
Hello, good sirs. You have made a really neat television series. The plot is a living, breathing homage to eighties genre greats with enough twists and 21st century updates to keep things fresh. Your casting directors just crushed it, and I love every character more than the last. You even get the woman thing right about 80% of the time, which is more than I can say for like… just about every other sci-fi series I’ve ever seen.
Like, case in point: Eleven! She’s a superhero, a badass, an almighty warrior – but she’s also sensitive, and flawed, and mired in deeply realistic trauma. Yeah, I have issues with the fact that a girl who was raised in a lab and doesn’t know words like “friend” and “home” somehow understands “pretty” and “another girl is standing in the same room as the guy I like, so I’m going to use my psionic powers to physically throw her from her skateboard and make her land on her ass and break her tailbone.” But that’s what I mean! You get her right 80% of the time. That’s like, a solid B+/A- cusp. You can be proud of that.
But there’s a much more serious flaw in your programming, which I haven’t seen any commentators discuss. So I’m bringing it up now, in hopes that you may right this savage wrong. And that is this:
Finn Wolfhard is in a band. He plays guitar; he sings, as evidenced by this video, where he covers “El Scorcho” by Weezer. That is a Niche twist and a personal attack that I was not expecting when I searched YouTube for “finn wolfhard band,” but let’s move on. Gaten Matarazzo played Gavroche in Les Mis on Broadway. Caleb McLaughlin played Simba in The Lion King on Broadway. Sadie Sink played Annie in Annie on Broadway. Millie Bobby Brown has the voice of an angel. Noah Schnapp’s musical bona fides are a little harder to discern, but there is this one video of him doing guest vocals at a Panic at the Disco concert. And more importantly, there is this video of Noah, along with the rest of the Stranger Thingz Boyz, just absolutely ripping up a medley of Motown classics, for which I must give noted Sean Spicer cuddler James Corden reluctant props. There’s some preamble, BTW; the music gets going at about 3:20.
So like, the Duffer Brothers. The Brothers Duffer. My good Duffs. What the fuck are you doing? You’ve assembled what is quite possibly the most talented group of singing child stars on the fucking planet, and you’re not turning Stranger Things into a musical? You’re wallpapering your show with 80s pop hits, but your cast that was reared from infancy on Broadway isn’t good enough to bust out a cover or two? You’re killing me. You. Are. Killing. Me.
So I’ve personally taken it upon myself – you’re welcome – to sketch out what a musical episode of Stranger Things might look like.
First off: in any good musical episode, you need a good framing device. There has to be a reason for all your characters to be breaking into song and dance all over the place.
Now you could, of course, just be like, “ohhh, shit, the evil demogorgon has infected us with a virus that makes us all sing radio-ready 80s hits all the time,” but you guys got nominated for Emmys last year and I’m guessing you want to keep getting nominated for those, so we’re going to have to go for something a little more believable.
As I see it, the best choice here is that Hawkins is putting on a musical, and we’re suspending disbelief for a second to pretend that there is a valid reason a bunch of D&D nerds would be super interested in auditioning for the school musical, and also musically adept enough to get every single one of the principal roles. Once we’ve got that high writerly burden out of the way, we need to choose a musical. It has to be thematically appropriate; it can’t be anachronistic.
Let’s look at our options. NPR once counted up the most frequently performed high school musicals of the 1980s, because why the fuck not, and the top choices were: Bye Bye Birdie, Oklahoma, Guys & Dolls, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Grease, and The Music Man.
But the difficulty here is that, while all classic, these musicals were first produced prior to the 1980s. So if you’re really committed to structuring your show as an 80s nostalgia trip, you may not want to embed a 1950s nostalgia trip like Grease. You might want to go for a musical that was actually produced in the early 1980s.
The next season of Stranger Things will be set in 1985; here are a few notable Tony Award nominees from the earlier half-decade, along with their prospects for inclusion in an episode of Stranger Things.
Evita | There are five lead roles in this thing, and you have six kid leads, but we can toss in some understudy drama to make this work. The thing is, Eleven can’t be Evita; “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is almost too thematically appropriate for her, so she would have to be Perón’s Mistress. Extrapolating from that, Mike is playing Juan Perón, and there’s only one other girl in the cast – so congratulations to Maxine “Max” Mayfield, you’re playing Eva. Bingo! Instant recipe for the petty hetero bullshit you guys love so much. We can also nip Eleven’s jealousy in the bud somewhat by casting Max’s boyfriend, Lucas, as Che Guevara, thus giving them “Waltz for Eva and Che.” That leaves Dustin as Magaldi, and Will as an understudy of some kind. Probably Mike’s understudy. It’s not perfect, but it’s feasible enough.
Let’s take this concept to a higher level of batshit, though. Let’s say Max mysteriously “loses her voice” on opening night due to Eleven psionically constricting her vocal cords. Eleven, perhaps, naively believes that she’ll automatically be selected to step in and play Evita. “But you don’t know the part!” squawks the embattled drama teacher. “You don’t know the part!”
And then Mike swans in wearing the $900 lacefront from his costume trunk, and it is laid, bitch. And he says, “Teacher, I’ve been rehearsing as Perón for months. I know Eva’s track like the back of my hand.” And the drama teacher thinks about this, and the drama teacher thinks, “You know what? Sure. Mike is 14; his voice is still pretty high. Let’s roll.”
Thus is Will upgraded from Perón’s Understudy to Perón. Thus does Mike Wheeler take the stage as Evita Perón. Thus does Finn Wolfhard belt out “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” in the blonde wig from Season 1.
Nine | Look, if six Academy Award winners and Fergie couldn’t make this work for a screen adaptation, I doubt your cadre of pre-teens will. Never mind that it is radically inappropriate for a cadre of pre-teens to perform, and most of the roles are female, anyway. Let’s scratch this one out; however, Niche-at-large, let’s look at incorporating “A Call from the Vatican” into the Robert Pope Leonard universe.
Dreamgirls | Hawkins, regrettably, is too white for this. Even if I could see Eleven belting out a teary-eyed “And I Am Telling You, I’m Not Going” to Mike before the Demogorgon sucks her right back into the Upside Down.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat | This one works because, a) quintessential school production, and b) mostly dudes. I wonder if it’s too dude-heavy, though? Like, what, are we going to relegate Eleven to playing Mrs. Potiphar? Give me a break. We could, of course, do gender-blind casting but… I feel like we can do better.
Cats | I’m not, like, super familiar with the ins and outs of Cats, so please understand that I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants here. I can’t make head nor tail – ha! – of the synopsis on Wikipedia, so I’m just gonna make some quick casting calls here.
ELEVEN as GRIZABELLA | She’s a former “glamour cat” who has lost her sparkle and now only wants to be accepted, but more importantly, she sings “Memory,” which is the only song I know from Cats, I think. And, come on. That is an Eleven song. She would just crush it. Millie Bobby Brown crooning, “It is so easy to leave me, all alone with the memory of my days in the sun.” Not a dry eye in the house. Or, not a dry eye in the… Netflix.
MAX as BOMBALURINA | “A red queen with a flame-colored pelt.” This isn’t rocket science.
WILL as MR. MISTOFFELEES | This character, much like Will himself, is “a young tuxedo cat learning to control his magical powers.” Is Noah Schnapp capable of performing the required twenty-four consecutive fouettés? I guess we’ll find out!
MIKE as RUM TUM TUGGER | I think this is kind of the male lead, right? Wikipedia describes him as “a flashy cat,” “the ladies’ cat and the rebel of the group,” and a cat who “loves the limelight, while at the same time… enjoys being seen as an individual by separating himself a little from the tribe.” If the shoe fits, I guess. I’m still hung up on Finn Wolfhard playing Eva Perón.
LUCAS and DUSTIN as MUNGOJERRIE and RUMPLETEAZER | A fun-loving, frolicking duo of pranksters. A good fit.
La Cage aux Folles | Look, I personally am all about this, but I can’t imagine a world in which a midwestern middle school in the year 1985 would ever mount a production of La Cage aux Folles.
Maybe it’s like, Hawkins Middle is doing a talent show, and Will auditions for said talent show with “I Am What I Am” wearing a gown from Mike’s costume trunk. And the music department rejects his audition, or like, allows him to perform the number but only on the condition that he wears a suit.
And so Will goes home and relates this news to his mother, and Ms. Joyce Byers hits the fucking roof and drives down to the school in her beat-up sedan and marches right into the principal’s office and screams, “WHY IS MY BOY BEING BANNED FROM THE TALENT SHOW? WHY IS EVERY STUDENT BUT MY BOY PARTICIPATING? WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH MY BOY EXPRESSING HIMSELF? WHAT IS SO WRONG ABOUT MY BOY WEARING A DRESS AND SINGING A SONG? MY BOY DID NOT CRAWL BACK THROUGH THE GAPING MAW OF DEATH ITSELF JUST TO BE TOLD THAT HE CAN’T SING THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK NUMBER FROM LA CAGE AT HIS SCHOOL’S TALENT SHOW! YOU WILL LET MY BOY SING THIS SONG! I HAVE THE ACLU ON FUCKING SPEED DIAL.”
And then the administrators cave – or they don’t cave, in which case Joyce personally puts on a guerrilla Alternative Talent Show in her own living room. Only the D&D gang plus Jonathan plus Nancy plus Steve shows up, but it’s chill.
Les Miserables | This one debuted in London in October of 1985 – well, actually, the French version debuted in Paris five years earlier, but we’d have to go with the English anyway – so we’re cutting it a bit close. But what’s a little anachronism when we consider all the possibilities, hmm? Would Eleven even need a framing device to sing “Castle on a Cloud?” Actually… okay. This one is different.
In this one, the framing device is like, the kids are all in the library working on a science project, and then Dustin’s like, “Hey Will, go grab an encyclopedia” and Will gets up to do this, and he begins to navigate the shelves, and then a hardcover cover of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo in the original French teeters precariously overhead, hits his delicate pubertal cranium like a brick, and plunges him into a special musical version of the Upside Down wherein the cast just… re-enacts Les Miserables in a three-hour special television event.
Okay, okay, so. Hopper is Valjean, obviously. Can David Harbour sing? I was going to go look this up, but then I realized Hugh Jackman can’t sing, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Dr. Brennan is Javert, returning in a special guest role. Also doesn’t matter if his actor can’t sing, because Russell Crowe sure couldn’t. Joyce Byers is Fantine, which like, should mean Young Cosette is Will, but obviously Eleven is Young Cosette. Oh, OH. And Will is young Eponine. We’re laying the groundwork for something here. Steve Harrington is Thenardier. Oh my god. I’m a fucking genius.
And then we get to the second part of the musical, where all the characters age up and the focus shifts to the Young Adults. So Eleven is still Cosette, and Will is still Eponine, which means Mike… is Marius… and we are cashing in on all the Will-is-gay-and-has-a-baby-crush-on-Mike subtext that you, the Duffer Brothers, have been laying down. Nancy is in full drag as Enjolras, which is good because it makes sense why she’s ribbing on Marius – they’re brothers! That would make Jonathan the obvious choice for Grantaire. Lucas and Dustin round out the cast as Combeferre and Courfeyrac, and instead of fighting in the French revolution, they’re all building barricades against the demogorgon.
High drama ensues. Will throws himself in front of the demogorgon to save Mike, and bleeds to death in Mike’s arms, singing “A Little Fall of Rain.” Nancy wears The Xylophone, and dies hand-in-hand with Jonathan in front of a demogorgon firing squad. I’m calling an audible and saying that Eleven-as-Cosette is the one to drag Mike-as-Marius through the sewers, singing a gently modified “Bring Him Home” that slices out the he’s like the son I might have known… line. Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Nancy absolutely crush their renditions of “Red and Black” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” And then Mike has to sing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables!” Sure hope Finn Wolfhard knows how to cry on cue while singing!
Anyway, Duffer Bros, hope this gives you enough to go on. Don’t waste this golden opportunity to do a musical episode. Don’t do it. Life is short. TV shows are shorter. I want to hear your entire cast sing “One Day More” in fourteen-part harmony. Make it happen.